The House State Government Committee held an informational meeting Wednesday to explore and question certain expenses made by the Office of Lieutenant Governor, and whether those expenses are a necessary or inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars.
The expenses, incurred by Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, have come under scrutiny in recent months following a long string of questions raised about his use of office perks, especially related to reports – and a subsequent state investigation – of mistreatment of his State Police security detail, which was discontinued in April by Gov. Tom Wolf.
Wednesday’s inquiry by the committee, however, was focused on recent reports of expenditures for events hosted at the Lieutenant Governor’s state-funded mansion, shopping reimbursements, and miscellaneous food and consumer items paid for by the state at the request of the Office of Lieutenant Governor.
“The Lieutenant Governor makes just over $160,000 per year, which, of course, is much more than the average taxpayer, and at a time when the state’s budget has been a major concern and still continues to be…I think we all should be doing everything we can to reduce costs,” said committee Majority Chairman Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler). “He’s been hosting events with labor union leaders, lobbyists and even held a ‘Pennsylvania Films Discussion.’”
Metcalfe, in discussing the events and some of the expenditures, said that they appear to be more appropriately paid for out of personal or campaign funds – not by the taxpayers at a taxpayer-funded mansion.
A similar sentiment was echoed by Anna McCauslin, the committee’s only outside presenter, who spoke on behalf of Americans for Prosperity-PA – the conservative political advocacy group in the United States funded by David H. Koch and Charles Koch.
McCauslin, AFP’s deputy state director, pointed to media reports indicating that the Lieutenant Governor’s office spent $73,000 in mainly food-related reimbursable expenditures in FY 2016-2017, during which period the Lieutenant Governor also lived in the taxpayer-provided “State House” mansion that costs $452,900 a year to run.
It was noted that grocery bills for the Lieutenant Governor’s mansion often totaled $1,000 or more per month. The only residents at the mansion are the Lieutenant Governor, his wife and their son.
“The average American family spends about $500 a month in groceries, but at [a salary of] $162,000, I would expect the Lieutenant Governor to pay for groceries,” said McCauslin. “If the mansion was just used for events, entertaining dignitaries and such, why are there consistent grocery expenses?”
Some examples of expenses: more than $300 for crab meat, spread across three different purchases, and more than $400 spent on duck breasts.
Despite this, McCauslin noted, there is little up-front transparency in how money in the Lieutenant Governor’s office is being spent.
“The Lieutenant Governor’s spending raises more questions than answers,” she said. “Is it all legitimate spending? I have no idea. It’s not tracked for the average Pennsylvanian to follow. Even if it’s legitimate, and it’s within his line-item…the fact is, we have no process, transparency or accountability measures seemingly.”
Though invited, Stack did not attend the meeting to speak on his own behalf.
Instead, he sent a letter to Metcalfe outlining his reasons for not attending, arguing the meeting is a “thinly veiled and clumsy attempt” to draw attention away from renewed scrutiny over recent media reports of Metcalfe’s support of white supremacists.
"Therefore, I decline to participate and will continue to call on Republican leadership to end their silence on Charlottesville by strongly denouncing so-called white nationalists as indistinguishable from white supremacists and Nazis," he wrote. "I suggest that if you and your colleagues find themselves with idle hours you fill them by applying yourself to your constitutional obligation of passing a final budget and moving out of your committee key pieces of legislation that could indicate your embrace of diversity and acceptance."
In response, Metcalfe sent Stack a letter of his own, calling the allegations made by the Lieutenant Governor, "malicious, dishonest and void of integrity."
“Former Philadelphia Democrat Congressman Fattah, former Philadelphia Democrat District Attorney Williams, former Philadelphia Democrat State Sen. Fumo, former Philadelphia Democrat State Rep. Waters, former Philadelphia Democrat State Rep. Miranda, former Philadelphia Democrat State Rep. Brownlee, former Philadelphia Democrat State Rep. Bishop, former Philadelphia Democrat State Rep. James, former Philadelphia Democrat State Sen. Washington, and former Philadelphia Democrat State Rep. Acosta, now are all CONVICTS. Therefore, no one should be surprised that Philadelphia Democrat Lt. Gov. Stack would also lie and have no integrity," he wrote.
“Your attack on me with libelous lies, in response to a professional invitation, to explain reported concerns about your expenditures of tax dollars, confirms a LACK of integrity in your character and validates the need for further scrutiny of your use of taxpayer resources.” (capitalization in the original)
Also invited to the meeting to speak about the operations of the Office of Lieutenant Governor were the Department of General Services – the state agency responsible for management of the Lieutenant Governor’s residence – and the Office of the Budget.
Neither accepted the invitation to speak before the committee.
Based on Wednesday’s chain of events, it appears this is only going to be the beginning of legislative inquiry into the operations of the Office of Lieutenant Governor.
Metcalfe noted more recent reports of expenditures that will require additional investigation and perhaps a more formal hearing. He also said the committee may take a trip to the State House to investigate whether the facility is being maintained in a manner taxpayers would expect.
“I think this is certainly a topic that there is more to it than we’ve been able to uncover already,” he said.
Jason Gottesman is the Harrisburg Bureau Chief of The PLS Reporter, a news website dedicated to covering Pennsylvania’s government.